With The National, Florence and the Machine

Shuffling past the psychedilc sheep and floating lanterns, you'd be forgiven for mistaking Latitude's arena for a kind of whimsical, countryside narnia. The early afternoon sun makes huddling under a tent a questionable idea, but the meodic, folky onslaught of Villagers is a gentle reminder that yes, this is a music festival.

The unassuming Conor J. O'Brien looks an unlikely frontman at first, but he's soon filling the tent with his glorious vocal, ranging from cavernously booming, to twinkly subtlety. The obvious highlight of the set is "one you guys might know," 'Becoming a Jackal.' Now that the album has had time to bed in, Villagers pull a large crowd and anyone previously unaware of the band leaves grinning with the encore's feedback ringing in their ears.

Over on the smaller, Lake Stage, London newcomers Yuck are showing us exactly why it's not just the Americans we should look to for our lo-fi indie. Their sweet jangle is remisiscent of Pavement and Blur all at once, and the band quickly prove more than worth the hype.

Next up, on the same stage are Esben And The Witch, armed with guitars, synths and a large drum. At one point all three of them huddle over the latter, bashing away in tandem with a bass heavy drum machine. Aggressive muscianship like this is coupled with moments of ethereal beauty as singer Rachel Davies' mutating vocal flows seamlessly from a breathless whisper to a Kate Bush-esque bellow. The Brighton trio may take their name from a dark Danish fairytale, but there is no hint of that darkness here, only a the resounding sound of a genuinely important new band.

Laura Marling, whose impassioned folk is already firmly lodged in the hearts of the hordes of fans gathered before the main stage, fares less well, mainly due to some odd set list choices. The main offenders are a few of the slower cuts from second album 'I Speak Bacuse I Can,' when compared to the faster more impactful material ('My Manic And I,' 'Ghosts') they fall a little flat. It wasn't that Laura didn't pull it off, the songs just didn't allow the crowd to show their appreciation fully.

Wild Beasts packed their set with all killer no filler, but were besieged by sound problems that left them frustrated midaway through their set. The recovery came quickly though, in the shape of a thrilling 'We Still Got The Taste Dancin' On Our Tongues' and a hoot along 'Hooting And Howling,' which smashed the technical grinch to smithereens.

Under the hanging baskets and wreaths in the woods later on, comes the sun-kissed waltz of last year's stars Girls. Their debut album was rightly acclaimed and, judging by the masses packed into what could be the festival's smallest space, Latitude loves them. However, it soon turns flat, with the band sauntering on 25 minutes late and launching into a set of mid-paced newies and slowed down oldies. The crowd desperately wanted West Coast duo to dazzle, but they were dusty, casual and far from shining a light in the Latitude woods. "So come on, come on, come on and dance with me" they croon as the crowd votes with its feet. If only you'd let us in Girls, it could've been the best dance of the weekend.

Rounding Friday off are The National and Florence and The Machine. The New Yorkers seem to have 'done and Elbow' in 2010 and those outside the circle have been attracted in by new album 'High Violet.' The crowd that greets Matt Berninger and co. is positively rabid, and all but a couple of songs are greeted like they are the last. With every song an encore, The National put in a performance that their peers will struggle to top this weekend. The crowd is positively rabid, shouting along until this feels more like United versus City than a festival set. The hirsute, black clad heroes on stage wield guitars and mic stands with abandon, every note hits home. None more so than in penultimate song 'Mr November,' when Berninger's bar room lilt reaches fever pitch. The debonair frontman struts around the stage clapping ,grasping at the air, fists clenched as he loses control with the music. 'Terrible Love' is an epic closer and Clash is more than ready to wander off into the night ready for 3am trapeze and lakeside storytelling.

Words by Ben Homewood

View an accompanying photo gallery from Friday at the Latitude festival HERE.


Check out more coverage from the Latitude Festival 2010:

Saturday Review
Saturday Gallery

Sunday Review
Sunday Gallery

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